1997-1998 Save the Manatee Trust Fund Annual Report
Manatees are marine mammals that can be found in Florida's coastal and riverine waters throughout the year. The Florida manatee is listed as an endangered species. Protection of manatees in Florida has been legislatively mandated since 1892. Current state efforts to recover the population are guided by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 and the federally approved Florida Manatee Recovery Plan of 1995. The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act declared the state to be a refuge and sanctuary for the manatee. The Act and subsequent amendments gives the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) the authority to protect manatees from disturbance and harassment, injury, and intentional mortality. The Florida Manatee Recovery Plan lists 126 separate tasks that need to be accomplished to recover the Florida population of the West Indian manatee. Many of these tasks are addressed through a cooperative effort between federal, state, and local governments.
The largest manatees may reach thirteen feet in length and weigh over 3500 pounds, but most individuals are shorter (an average of 8 feet) and smaller (average of 1,000 pounds). Manatees are aquatic herbivores (plant eaters) and are most commonly seen eating, resting, or traveling. Female manatees are pregnant for 12-14 months and usually give birth to a single calf measuring about three to four feet in length. The calves remain with their mothers for up to two years. The recovery of the manatee population is impeded by mortalities from human-related causes (e.g., from collisions with watercraft, becoming trapped in water control gates and locks, and becoming entangled in fishing gear), as well as destruction and degradation of their habitat. Manatees have also died as a result of contact with harmful algal blooms, the effects of cold water, and natural disease.
Funding for research and management activities in Florida is authorized through the Save the Manatee Trust Fund, which receives money from sales of a manatee license plate, boat registration fees, decal sales, voluntary contributions, and interest income. Revenues for the Save the Manatee Trust Fund for Fiscal Year 1997-98 totaled almost $4,017,124, as shown in the accompanying pie chart. Environmental education programs were funded through an $1,154,000 appropriation to the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (FGFWFC). The legislative appropriation for manatee and marine mammal programs in 1997-98 was allocated to FDEP manatee and marine mammal research and management programs within the Division of Marine Resources, contracts to other research organizations, oceanaria participating in the rescue and rehabilitation of manatees, as well as private organizations. Research activities coordinated by the Division's Florida Marine Research Institute (FMRI) in St. Petersburg totaled $2,126,378. Management activities conducted by the Division's Bureau of Protected Species Management (BPSM) totaled $2,248,104. Budgetary breakdowns for individual program units for both the research and management efforts are depicted on the next page, followed by summaries of the work performed by personnel at the FMRI and the BPSM.
The human-related problems that manatees and their aquatic ecosystem face did not develop suddenly and they will not be solved quickly. The solutions are complex and time consuming, as documented in the Recovery Plan and as evidenced by the complexity of tasks undertaken by FDEP each year. Through the cooperation of local, federal, and state agencies, private organizations, and corporations, effective partnerships have been created to constructively address the recovery of the manatee population. FDEP persists in its efforts to heighten the environmental awareness of Florida's citizens and visitors, realizing that each person can make a significant contribution to the preservation of manatees and Florida's ecosystems by becoming aware of and complying with regulations that were designed both to protect this endangered species and to accommodate the growth of Florida's human population. FDEP will continue to coordinate its applied marine research programs with ecosystem management practices to ensure the habitat quality that sustains manatees can be improved and maintained within the State of Florida.